Article: Mount Śatruñjaya

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Shatrunjaya – Mount Śatruñjaya – is one of the paramount holy places for Jains, especially the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjakas. A large hill with two summits outside Palitana in Gujarat, 40 kilometres from Bhavnagar, Shatrunjaya has a special connection with Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. Also called Ādinātha or Adishvar, meaning ‘First Lord’, Ṛṣabha is the first Jina and is worshipped in the largest and most conspicuous temple on the site.

Though the site dates back to around the fifth century, it has undergone several major renovations, with the 19th century seeing the most intense period of building activity. In the course of time Shatrunjaya has become a ‘temple-city’, boasting almost a thousand shrines of varying size and importance. Not only the temples but virtually each and every spot on the hill at Shatrunjaya is considered holy, with magical and supernatural beliefs surrounding the whole place. Shatrunjaya is associated with several Jinas and plenty of legendary figures, both underlining and deepening the sacred nature of the site.

As probably the pre-eminent pilgrimage centre for Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaka Jains, Shatrunjaya now attracts about 400,000 pilgrims every year, according to official figures. All festivals linked with Ṛṣabha are celebrated with especial fervour at Shatrunjaya. For example, the main Adishvar Temple is the most auspicious place in which to end the year-long varṣītap fast, which is marked by the Akṣaya-tṛtīyā festival.

Myths and stories connected with Shatrunjaya abound and it has been a favourite topic for musical, literary and visual works of art for centuries. As such a well-known place, it has aroused competing claims to ownership. Nowadays, the temples in Shatrunjaya and Palitana – which boasts numerous temples itself – are run by the Ānandji Kalyānji nī peḍhī.

One of the five Jain holy places

Seeing thousands of pilgrims each year, Mount Sammeta – Sammeta Śikhara – in north-eastern India is one of the holiest places for Jains. Auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – connected with many Jinas occurred here, including the liberation of 20 Jinas

Peaks of Mount Sammeta
Image by CaptVijay © public domain

Shatrunjaya is one of the five holy places which make up Jain sacred geography, according to several medieval and modern or contemporary accounts (see, for example, Tod 1839: 276). The other holy places are:

Sacred nature of Shatrunjaya

Shatrunjaya has several names, which highlight its longstanding importance in Jain sacred history and legends. Its holiness has many sources. The main one is its connection with events in the life of the first Jina, known as Ādinātha or Ṛṣabhanātha – Lord Ṛṣabha – and figures around him. More broadly, Shatrunjaya is linked with several Jinas and legendary figures.

These associations are captured in physical form, which offer focal points for worship. The topography of the site is also considered holy, with natural features such as stones and lakes having become powerful parts of the sacred landscape. The holiness of these features stems chiefly from the presence of the Jinas.

Different names

The hundreds of temples at Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat comprise one of the pre-eminent pilgrimage centres for image-worshipping Śvetāmbara Jains.

View of Shatrunjaya temples
Image by Nirajdharamshi © CC BY-SA 3.0

Shatrunjaya is known by a number of names. Most of these names come from legend, unless it is the reverse – a legend coined to explain a name. This is a sign of the respect and value the location has in the eyes of followers as, for example, the Jinas or the Hindu gods may be called by 108 or 1008 names.

A traditional list contains 21 names for Shatrunjaya (Tod 1839: 277–278; Kanchansagar-suri 1982: 28 and so on) but there are variations in the number and also in some of the names. Only a few well-known examples are given here. The term Śatruñjaya means ‘conquering the enemies’ and some legends give the origin of this name in the story of a king. But, in the Jain context, the enemies are also within one’s own soul – in the form of passions, sins and so on – since detachment is the goal of living. This notion certainly also underlies the name of the hill.

Some names underline a specific feature of the site, such as:

  • Siddhācala – ‘Mountain of Emancipation
  • Siddha-kṣetra – ‘Area of Emancipation’
  • Muktinilaya – ‘Abode of Emancipation’.
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